Transition in modern languages from primary to secondary school: the challenge of change

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Nova Southeastern University]On: 07 October 2014, At: 23:06Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Transition in modern languages fromprimary to secondary school: thechallenge of changeGary Chambersaa School of Education, University of Leeds, Leeds, UKPublished online: 04 Sep 2012.

    To cite this article: Gary Chambers (2014) Transition in modern languages from primary tosecondary school: the challenge of change, The Language Learning Journal, 42:3, 242-260, DOI:10.1080/09571736.2012.708052

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  • Transition in modern languages from primary to secondary school: thechallenge of change

    Gary Chambers*

    School of Education, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

    This article reports on in-depth interviews conducted with 12 teachers of modernlanguages in relation to how they dealt with the challenge of transition fromprimary to secondary school, with special reference to modern foreign languages.Findings suggest that only one of the 12 secondary schools was well placed tofacilitate a smooth transition, with appropriate communication and collaborationstrategies in place. The remainder of the sample, however, showed evidence ofproblematic issues such as poor liaison between primary and secondary schoolsleading to ill-informed arrangements for transition. Teachers perception of anyidentifiable policy in relation to transition seems to be unclear. Practice appearsgenerally ineffective. The literature of leadership of large-scale educational changeis exploited in an attempt to find out why. The teachers interviewed provide anevidence base to inform a realistic and urgently needed transition strategy. Thisarticle contains important messages for a global readership about transitionspecifically and approaches to change implementation more generally.

    1. Introduction

    Major changes took place in the provision of modern foreign languages (MFL) inEngland following the publication of the National Languages Strategy (Departmentfor Education and Schools 2002). Languages were made optional post-14 andPrimary Modern Foreign Languages (PMFL) were introduced. Currently, theposition of PMFL (and indeed other subjects) is unclear, given that the curriculum isunder review.

    The focus of this article is the issue of transition between primary and secondaryschool with special reference to foreign languages and the management of change.The report on the 1960s Pilot Scheme for the teaching of French in primary schools(Burstall et al. 1974) reflected how pupils, in the main, simply re-started their MFLexperience in the secondary school from scratch, regardless of the knowledge andexperience they might have brought from primary school. Schools of that timediffered substantially from those of today, in that local authorities (LAs) had muchmore influence and the National Curriculum and its Key Stages (Key Stages 1 and 2relate to primary school and Key Stage 3 to the first three years of secondary school)were not in place as a template for progression. In spite of the contextual differences,

    *Email: G.N.Chambers@education.leeds.ac.uk

    2012 Association for Language Learning

    The Language Learning Journal, 2014Vol. 42, No. 3, 242260, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09571736.2012.708052

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  • however, the findings of more recent research (Bolster 2009; Cable et al. 2010; Evansand Fisher 2009; Hunt et al. 2008; McLachlan 2009) suggest that the problematicissues remain. Although examples of good practice are in evidence across the UK(see, for example, Wicksteed 2008), this tends to be inconsistent. Transition oftenremains a major challenge and should this challenge not be met, then the hoped-foror even expected amelioration in MFL in English secondary schools (McLachlan2009), with particular reference to motivation and recruitment (CILT 2009), mightnot be witnessed. Arguably at the core of the challenge of transition is the widerquestion of whether PMFL have been introduced in line with effective managementof change (Bush 2008; Fullan 2006, 2007; Levin and Fullan 2008; Markee 2002 andothers).

    The opening sections of this article provide a synopsis of research on PMFL andthe issues that relate to transition from primary to secondary school. This providesthe background to this pilot study conducted in a northern area of England, with aparticular focus on the perspective of secondary school MFL teachers withresponsibility for the Key Stage 2 (KS2, ages 7 to 11) to Key Stage 3 (KS3, ages1114) transition. Subsequent sections describe the methodology adopted, outlinethe findings and discuss them in relation to the literature of educational change. Theconcluding section takes a forward look, suggesting how problematic issues might beaddressed.

    1.1. PMFL provision

    Reports on PMFL tend broadly to consist of positive statistics on the number ofprimary schools teaching foreign languages (Whitby, Wade and Shagen 2008)tempered by concerns relating to staffing, timetabling, resources and transition, interalia. Cable et al. (2010) report headteachers and teachers perception that childrenare enjoying benefits from the MFL learning experience, such as increased culturalawareness and understanding, enhanced language and literacy competence andacquisition of learning strategies of generic relevance. Wicksteed (2008) providesinteresting insights into sound communication and collaboration between asecondary school and its feeder primary schools.

    Research evidence also suggests, however, that quality of provision is patchyacross the country. Driscoll, Jones and Macrory (2004), Martin (2000), McLachlan(2009) and Powel et al. (2000), amongst others, identify the absence of a coherentpolicy at LA level, the ever-increasing squeeze on curriculum time, the priorityaccorded to core subjects and the low status given to languages, the lack ofcommunication between primary and secondary schools and the challenge ofappointing and retaining suitably skilled and experienced teachers.

    Evaluations of 19 LA Pathfinders in England (i.e. primary schools identified totrial KS2 foreign languages teaching and develop models of provision) (Enever andWatts 2009; Hunt 2009; Muijs et al. 2005) suggest that even in those authorities thatwere awarded funding for the piloting of the introduction of PMFL at KS2 between2003 and 2005, lessons remained to be learned. They identify inconsistency betweenschools in relation to the interpretation of the aims of PMFL, timetabling, teachingapproach and content. These findings may have informed the later publication ofKey Stage 2 Framework for Languages (DfES, 2005a) and the Qualifications andCurriculum Development Agencys (2007) Schemes of Work for KS2 Languages,which addressed many of the problematic issues identified.

    The Language Learning Journal 243

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  • Problems relating to staffing are widely reported. These are often associated witha specialist MFL teacher, often from the local secondary school but lacking expertisein the teaching of primary-school-age children. This results in PMFL failing tobelong on the primary school curriculum or being owned by the primary schoolstaff. Driscoll et al. (2004: 92) refer to Spanish and vanish teachers who createproblems when they leave the school and no other suitable teacher remains. In othercases problems arose as a result of a specialist primary teacher teaching French/German/Spanish with little foreign language competence or confidence. Continuity,progression and transition were also key issues. Hunt (2009) found that some LAsrecorded experience and attainment using the European languages portfolio (seehttp://www.cilt.org.uk/home/standards_and_qualifications/european_language_portfolio.asp) or an achievement portfolio that they had developed themselves,whilst others adopted a more informal, qualitative approach. Some teachers did notregard assessment as important and/or wanted to avoid any pressure or anxiety thatit might generate.

    1.2. The challenge of transition

    The transition from primary school to secondary school is recognised as a challengefor pupils and their schools, regardless of the subject area. Galton et al. (1999) reporthow pupils progress can come to a halt or even go into reverse at this point in theireducation. They also acknowledge that whilst the social and emotional dimensionsof the pupil experience are given close attention, curriculum continuity tends to beneglected.

    The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) was clearly aware of theimportance of appropriate transition arrangements being in place for the transfer toKS3, with specific reference to MFL. Improving Transfer and Transition in Key Stage3 Modern Foreign Languages: A Focus on Progression (DfES 2005b) and the KS2Framework for Languages (DfES 2005a) as well as the Qualifications and CurriculumDevelopment Agencys (2007) Schemes of Work for KS2 Languages have thepotential to support schools in adopting appropriate transition strategies. Otherpublications on PMFL (Jones and Coffey 2006; Jones and McLachlan 2009; Kirsch2008) contained helpful advice and guidance on meeting this challenge. How muchthese various documents were exploited by schools and how much an impact theymade is open to question, however, given that transition is recognised as a problemarea in most of the subsequent research (Bolster 2009; Cable et al. 2010; Evans andFisher 2009; Hunt et al. 2008; McLachlan 2009).

    Bolster (2009) underlines the impact of transition on the individual pupil: wheretransition is managed appropriately and the pupils knowledge of the languagelearned at primary school is recognised and informs the scheme of work at KS3,motivation can be strengthened and the enthusiasm for languages maintained; whereit is not, motivation can be lost. There is also the potential for some pupils towelcome the opportunity to occupy a can do position, where they feel secure inshowing off the knowledge they have acquired at primary school.

    Problems relating to PMFL and transition in particular are not exclusive toEngland. Blondin et al.s (1998) review of research into PMFL in various EuropeanUnion countries between 1990 and 1996 echoes the findings of UK-related researchoutlined earlier in this article. They reported, on the positive side, pupils gains inrelation to confidence, tolerance and attitude. On the other hand, they identified a

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  • manifest lack of continuity between the childrens experiences at primary andsecondary levels, with a tendency for teachers at secondary to fail to buildadequately on what children had begun to develop at primary, and also to a lack ofmetalinguistic emphasis in the teaching at primary (12). This view is supported byNikolov (2009: 42), who observed (albeit in slightly contradictory fashion):

    Continuation in secondary schools is a problem everywhere in Europe except in somecountries such as Finland and Sweden where the foreign language is part of the corecurriculum. I would say that not one country is completely successful in ensuring thetransition to secondary.

    We know that KS2 to KS3 transition is a crucial phase of childrens education,especially for their academic motivation (MacCallum 2001). Given that transition inMFL is widely recognised as a problematic area, it is hoped that this study maythrow more light on the issue.

    1.3. Change management

    The literature on management of change may help to provide some clues about howthe transition policy should be managed, for example, how teachers should beprepared and the support and guidance that should be in place. This study offers anopportunity to gauge whether such a strategy was implemented and the resultingimplications.

    Margolis and Nagel (2006: 143) identify how change is a permanent and acceptedfeature of a schools reality: The question, then, is not whether there will be change, butwhat that change will be . . . . When change is not managed properly and is notsupported by resources, time and appropriate staff development (in relation to PMFLsee, for example, Driscoll, Jones and Macrory 2004; Martin 2000; McLachlan 2009;Powel et al. 2000), teacher stress is often the outcome (Kyriacou 2001). Leithwood,Jantzi and Mascall (2002) insist that a reform initiative requires funding that isspecifically attached to it. This funding not being identifiable or inadequate may lead toresentment and/or reduced expectations in relation to the reform and its significance.

    The leadership provided for any initiative is key. This is underscored by Markee(2002: 1734):

    The change agent must always provide strong leadership. . . . Good communication isvital to the success of any project in curricular innovation. . . . They must alsoenergetically explain the relevance of these innovations to teachers, who may otherwisesee these innovations as intrusive by taking away time and energy that they couldotherwise be devoting to their teaching.

    Fullan (2006) identifies the positive impact on...

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